LAHORE: High-flying Pakistan look to take an unbeatable lead against New Zealand when the teams face off in the third T20 International here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Monday night.

The Babar Azam-led Pakistan comfortably beat Tom Latham-captained tourists by 38 runs in the second T20 on Saturday. The hosts had won the opener by a massive 88 runs on Friday.

Babar on Saturday cracked a brilliant 58-ball unbeaten century that lifted Pakistan’s total to a huge 192-4. Babar’s opening partner Mohammad Rizwan (50 off 34), Iftikhar Ahmed (33 not out off 19) and fast bowler Haris Rauf (4-27) were the other notable performers in that game.

With all their bases almost covered, Babar and his men have so far enjoyed a prolific T20 series under familiar conditions.

Speaking during the post-match media talk after Saturday’s T20, Babar expressed delight at his performance.

“I am very happy to perform in this match,” said Babar, who is now the joint most successful T20 International captain with 42 victories, alongside England’s Eoin Morgan and Asghar Afghan of Afghanistan.

“I had two good partnerships and then our bowling was once again excellent. We have got experienced and exciting young bowlers who gave us back-to-back wins.

“My favourite moment of the [Pakistan] innings was the last over,” Babar said referring to the 17 runs he mustered in that over bowled by pacer James Neesham.

Babar started the over on 84 and looked like he would end short of a century, but the 28-year-old took the attack to Neesham – striking the final ball over cover for a four to reach his ninth hundred in all T20 cricket. Only West Indies opener Chris Gayle has hit more hundreds in the format with 22, while India’s Rohit Sharma leads the T20 International chart with four tons.

Babar, who has now three T20 International centuries under his belt, said he always tried to play his game with positive mindset and sought to improve.

“Always the first priority for me is to play according to the demand of the [prevailing] situation. We had a good opening stand [of 99 with Rizwan] but in a mini collapse we lost four wickets. At that point, I decided to hold my end and let Iftikhar attack,” the skipper said.

“This [approach] gave us momentum again helping us set a good total in the end.”

Meanwhile, Haris said it was a good sign that Pakistan had won two consecutive matches which raised the players’ confidence.

“It is good that I took four wickets in each of the first two matches. I first tried to hit the wicket but as the ball was gripping, I sent down slow balls and that [approach] clicked,” the 29-year-old pacer, who took a career best 4-18 in the T20 series opener, said while talking to media.

Right-armer Haris said his top priority in T20 Internationals had not been to take wickets but to bowl maximum dot balls which, he said, impacted the short-format game significantly.

Haris further said Pakistan would try their best to bag the T20 series by winning today’s match.

New Zealand, on the other hand, need to rejuvenate themselves if they are to keep the T20 series alive.

After faltering badly in the first two outings, the tourists must lift their game to make the series interesting, which otherwise has remained one-sided so far.

Mark Chapman scored a fighting 65 not out for New Zealand on Saturday but lost partners at regular intervals after the tourists made a decent start.

“We have been there or thereabouts but weren’t able to finish the innings off, both with the ball and bat,” said Latham after the second T20. “When Babar plays like that, you tip your hat off.

“The bowlers are trying hard and we are not that far away.

“We were a lot better [in the second T20] than last night. You need to get off to a quick start while chasing 190 and we weren’t able to do that today,” the skipper remarked.

After today’s game, the action shifts to Rawalpindi which will host the fourth and fifth T20 games on April 20 and 24. The T20 series will be followed by a five-match ODI series to be staged in Rawalpindi and Karachi from April 27 to May 7.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2023

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